In Colombia, people eat empanadas for breakfast, lunch or dinner. They are made mostly with beef, chicken or cheese filling. But in the last few travels to my native country, I have encountered modern updates like Hawaiian (ham, pineapple and cheese), shrimp, vegetarian (corn salsa filling), and many others. I tend to be old school when it comes to comfort food, and this is most definitively a comfort for Colombians. Empanadas go hand in hand with Colombian Aji, in my household an empanada is not inhaled without the spicy pepper condiment.
1 lb of lean (90/10) ground beef
½ Red Pepper, cored and seeded
½ Green Pepper, cored and seeded
½ White Onion, peeled & ends cut off
3 Garlic Cloves, peeled
1 tsp Cumin
1 tsp Onion Powder
2 tbs of Sofrito OR Packet of Goya Beef Bouillon
2 tbs Olive Oil
1 cup of Pre-Cooked White Corn Meal (like Harina PAN)
1 ¼ cup of warm water (maybe more as needed)
½ tsp of cumin
¼ packet of Goya Beef Bouillon
¼ packet of Goya Sazón with Azafran**
Tools needed for assembly:
1 Gallon or Quart sized zip lock bag
Rolling pin OR Tortilla Press
Small sharp edge bowl or plate (to cut out half moon shape)
Instructions for filling:
-Add peppers, onions and garlic into a food processor and chop until finely diced.
-In a pan, warm the olive oil and add veggies plus spices and sauté until soft, 4 – 5 minutes.
-Add the ground beef and break it up until fully separated, no big clumps allowed! Cook until almost, if not all of the liquid has evaporated. Set aside and slant the pan to run juices (if any are left over) to the side. The filling has to be as liquid free as possible so that the empanadas stay crisp and not soggy.
Instructions for Dough:
-In a bowl mix the warm water with the Goya Sazón with Azafrán, until the water is an orange/yellow color. Add the white corn meal and knead with your hands right away for about 1 min. or until the dough is yellow and no longer lumpy***.
-When the dough is ready your hand will pull away mostly clean, no large clumps sticking to your fingers.
If the dough is too wet, add some corn meal. If it is too dry, add some water.
–Take some dough and roll between your hands to make 2 inch balls. I usually get 9 – 10 portions out of one batch.
- To prepare for assembly cut open the zip lock bag so that it is single sheet of plastic and lightly spray with cooking spray. Have rolling pin on standby.
- If you are using the tortilla press, use a quart sized zip lock bag and cut it open to make one single sheet of plastic. Also cut off the closing mechanism or it will get in the way of the press when closing.
Method 1 (rolling pin)
-Place the portioned dough ball in the center of the opened zip lock bag and fold one side over, covering the dough with the plastic.
-Roll it out to a thin disk****, but make sure that all sides are fairly even in thickness so that you do not have uneven cooking results.
Method 2 (tortilla press)
The press will give you more consistent results, and it’s a work horse for large batches of empanadas.
-Place the zip lock bag on the opened tortilla press and lightly add cooking spray. Center the dough ball, fold plastic bag over and press, but not so much that the tortilla press is “locked”.
-Open the tortilla press and rotate the zip lock bag 90 degrees and re-press so that the dough is pressed evenly on all sides.
-With the dough disk still on the zip lock bag, place 1.5 tablespoons to 2 tablespoons of beef filling right on the center.
-Gently fold one side of the dough over the filling to make a half moon shape.
-To seal and cut off excess dough, I use a ceramic bowl. Anything that has a round shape and a sharp enough edge to cut through the dough is fine to use. Start at one end and press firmly on the bowl until you feel that you cut through the dough with the edge of the bowl. Roll towards the other end of the half moon shape, while trying to cut off most of the excess dough. Be careful that you do not cut so close to the filling because the dough will crack.
-Deep fry the empanada in very hot canola oil until golden*****. Once you take them out of the oil, place them “standing up” in a deep bowl lined with a few paper towels, to absorb excess oil. Time to enjoy!!
-Make a pile with the excess dough and at after you have flatten and all the already made dough balls, use it to form the last dough ball and make into an empanada, no sense in wasting it.
**The idea is to give the dough a golden yellow color, so if you would rather use Saffron, Bidol Sazon, or whatever coloring… go for it!!
***If you let the dough sit without kneading, hard clumps will form that are very hard to break up.
****Good Empanadas are ones that have thin dough fried to crisp perfection. The thinner you roll the dough the better, but be careful because if it is TOO thin, it will crack when fried.
*****Fry the empanada depending on how crisp you want the dough to be. As you can see in the picture, some of us like them crunchier than others, hence the dark looking ones.